Complex Systems


The problem of the spread and attempted control of an infectious disease is addressed as a Complex System. In this project, students will investigate the recent spread of coronavirus or seasonal influenza in their town, region or country.

Sequence of Project Activities

  • Students will start by watching and discussing, on separate days, two BLOSSOMS video lessons: The Surprising World of Complex Systems and Flu Math Games. The first explains the diagrammatic depictions of complex systems using flows, levels and feedback loops. The second focuses on the dynamics of flu spread. Both are presented within a mathematical modeling context. 
  • Teacher presents lesson on Stock-Flow diagrams in the context of disease spread and recovery. Student Teams utilize data from Italy for developing Stock-Flow diagrams, plotting results, and interpreting. 
  • Teacher presents lesson on the basic reproductive number R0 and develops the formula relating R0 to behavior and disease parameters. Teacher does the same for Herd Immunity, H. Presents examples, with interpretations. Teacher calls on student teams to describe what they have learned about R0 and Herd Immunity, and how that may apply to themselves and to society more broadly.
  • Teacher presents lesson on feedback loops and SIR model, using a simple color-coded figure. Provides a simple representation of a population of a town, starting from patient zero. Students will analyze and discuss how the disease spreads over time. 
  • Student teams will research Covid-19 or influenza data from their own town, region or country, apply what they have learned in analyzing that data, and prepare a presentation of recommendations for dealing with future infectious diseases.

Summative Assessment

Teacher Resources (PDF format, Word format)